The Blue Jays are signing a reliever Julian Fernandez to a minor league contract, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet (Twitter link). He’ll add some hard-throwing bullpen depth to the upper minors.
Fernández has over two years of major league service, but virtually all of that was spent on the injured list. The Giants took the righty out of the Rockies organization in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. He suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery before he could throw a pitch for San Francisco and spent the entire following season on the MLB injured list. The Marlins claimed him off waivers the next offseason but he spent the entire 2019 campaign on the IL as well thanks to continued elbow issues.
Over the 2019-20 offseason, Miami relinquished his Rule 5 rights. That sent him back to his original organization, the Rockies, without requiring a 40-man roster spot. Fernández had racked up two years of MLB service without appearing in a game, but he finally got his first real opportunity late in the 2021 season. Colorado selected him onto their 40-man roster as a September call-up. He allowed eight runs in 6 2/3 innings over six outings, struggling with his control but averaging a blistering 99 MPH on a fastball that maxed out just shy of 101.
Fernández held his roster spot with Colorado last winter but spent the first few months of the season on optional assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque. He struggled and was designated for assignment in mid-June. He cleared outright waivers and stuck with the Isotopes for the entire season, tallying 57 innings across 58 appearances. The Dominican-born hurler allowed a 6.63 ERA in that extremely hitter-friendly league, serving up a staggering 2.37 home runs per nine innings. He struck out 24.9% of opponents on an impressive 13.6% swinging strike percentage, but the longball and a 12.3% walk rate proved too problematic for him to get back to the majors.
After qualifying for minor league free agency at season’s end, Fernández finds a new opportunity in Toronto. His arm strength is surely intriguing for the Jays pitching development staff even as his minor league performance track record has been inconsistent. The 27-year-old still has two minor league option years remaining, so if he cracks Toronto’s 40-man at any point, he can bounce between Rogers Center and Triple-A Buffalo freely for the next couple of seasons.